Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canadian tour can start living up to potential

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Knowing some of the history of the former Canadian Professional Golf tour, you'd say it was about due for better days.

The ups and downs have been many over three decades but changing the organization's name to PGA Tour Canada for 2013 and beyond is way more than putting lipstick on a double bogey.

Now that the PGA Tour is in charge and has linked the Canadian circuit formally into the structure and feeder system of golf's biggest tour, things have bounced dramatically off the mat.

This summer's Players Cup at Pine Ridge may look very much like it has in recent years, but the strength, stability and enthusiasm are significantly different.

There are other smaller signs, and both big and small elements will continue to surface, but here are five major developments since the end of 2012 that bode well for the future:

1. The Jets' True North Foundation

It's no secret that the Jets and True North are very protective of their brand. No doubt they have declined numerous business propositions, and their body language at first pitch by The Players Cup and new PGA Tour Canada president Jeff Monday was similarly in that vein. But somehow, tournament executive director Ryan Hart and Monday, a personable, look-you-in-the-eye executive with a long track record at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Fla., convinced the Jets that this was a good fit in the area of charity fundraising.

By the way, Players Cup tickets, doubling as an entry to the Ultimate Sports Raffle (trip to the 2014 Masters, corporate membership for four at Pine Ridge, a Jets suite for a 2013-14 game, Winnipeg Goldeyes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers season tickets) are now available and easily found at theplayerscup.ca.

2. Q School

Past qualifying-school entries for the Canadian tour have varied but didn't exceed 100 very often. And in the past there were often schools at more than one time of the year. But for the 2013 season, PGA Tour Canada offered one window. Three hundred and forty-five players applied. Players clearly voted with their wallets and their entry forms, and this endorsement from within the sport says plenty about the quality of this year's tour.

3. Exemptions

Recognizing that co-operation is a better way to build golf in Canada, the PGA Tour Canada and Golf Canada have agreed on a two-way street for exemptions.

PGA Tour Canada will invite two players from the national amateur team, or former members of it who are now playing professionally, to each of the first seven events this season.

And Golf Canada has agreed to invite PGA Tour Canada's top three players, as of the money-list standings after The Players Cup, to the RBC Canadian Open this summer.

This number used to be six entries to the Canadian Open as recently as two years ago, but when it comes to Golf Canada, sometimes you take what you can get. The formalized co-operation is long, long overdue. While it has rarely reached open acrimony, there are plenty of incidents from the past where Canadian golf bodies like Golf Canada, the Canadian Tour and the PGA of Canada just couldn't seem to get along, agree on or work together or support each other on very much.

4. The Tour Championship

And while the exemptions deal goes against the past flow, the new agreement for Golf Canada to actually run/operate the PGA Tour Canada's Tour Championship of Canada in London, Ont., later this year positively sends the tide the other way.

Not to belabour Point No. 3, but there have been days in the past where the folks at Golf Canada couldn't bother to pick up the phone when the Canadian tour called. We're unaware of any tournament they have worked on together, an astounding reality considering each organization's goal to promote the game in this country.

This Tour Championship deal is more evidence of the power and the credibility of the PGA Tour.

5. Schedule expanding

PGA Tour Canada announced in just the last week that it's growing the schedule already.

A ninth event for 2013 has been added for late August in Peterborough, Ont. Monday has made no secret of the fact he's looking to build a better schedule for players, maybe reach a dozen tournaments across Canada before another year or two goes by.

Adding one almost immediately to the base schedule of eight tournaments is a great vibe for both players and potential sponsors.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 C4

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